Appeals Court Upholds Oregon’s Release Order for Defendants Denied Counsel

( – The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last Friday upheld a lower court ruling that ordered Oregon defendants to be released from jail after seven days if they have not obtained a defense attorney.

In its decision, the appellate court described the state’s public defense system as a “Sixth Amendment nightmare” and said that Oregon was responsible for ensuring that criminal defendants had legal protections.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused the right to an attorney.

Oregon has been struggling in recent years to provide defense attorneys to every defendant who needs one as the state seeks to address a shortage of public defenders.

According to a March report from Oregon’s Office of Public Defense Services, the state would need another 500 attorneys to meet its current obligations.

According to the Oregon Judicial Department, as of Friday, May 31, there were more than 3,200 defendants who did not have a public defender. Of those, roughly 146 were in custody.

State officials have taken steps to address the issue, including providing additional funding and hiring state employees to act as trial-level public defenders.

Lawmakers in the state are hopeful that moving the Oregon Public Defense Commission from the judicial branch to the executive branch next year will help provide further support for the agency.

The 2-1 decision by the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the preliminary injunction ordered last August by US District Court Judge Michael McShane. The case stemmed from 10 defendants held in the Washington County jail who did not have court-appointed attorneys. The defendants filed a class action petition through Oregon’s federal public defender’s office.

Federal Public Defender Fidel Cassino-DuCloux welcomed the appellate court decision, saying it would breathe life into the Sixth Amendment which, for many Oregon residents, had been “an empty promise.”

Cassino-DuCloux said in a statement that he hoped that the state would follow the instructions of the 9th Circuit “without delay.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of Justice said it was reviewing the decision.

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